Echoes of the Maghreb: Modernity, Empire, and the Fez Congress of Moroccan Music

By Elizabeth Matsushita
Submitted to Session P4969 (Music and Politics "min al-Mashriq ila al-Maghrib", 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In May 1939, a diverse group of musicians, scholars, and dignitaries came together in Fez for what was dubbed the First Congress of Moroccan Music. Held at various sites in the old Medina and the Ville Nouvelle, the congress’s goal was to both promote Moroccan musical patrimony and to address scientifically how to preserve this heritage in the age of musical modernity. In this, it was strongly influenced by the Cairo Congress of Arab Music, held just seven years earlier in 1932; some of the attendees participated in both congresses. Like the Cairo Congress, the participation of both European and Arab delegates revealed the wide-ranging, and sometimes contentious, aims of the diverse assemblage, which ranged from Musée de l’Homme musicologists, to Orientalist composers, to local groups that performed national identity and modernity in ways that inherently countered French colonial claims.

This paper will analyze the contributions of three congress participants: Spanish musicologist Patrocinio Garcia Barriuso, French musicologist Alexis Chottin, and Moroccan musicologist Idriss ben Abdelali. Using Garcia Barriuso’s comprehensive recollection of the congress, Ecos del Magrib, as a foundation, it will also analyze his work on “Hispano-Muslim music” and his role as delegate for the Spanish Protectorate. Chottin and Abdelali were meanwhile employed by the French Protectorate’s Service des Arts Indigènes; each thus served as an ambassador of sorts for the value of musicology in the French Protectorate. Yet as I will argue, the framing of their work, the assumptions in their scholarship, and their very subjectivities were informed by their respective investments in a French or independent Morocco. Garcia Barriuso’s third position as a Spanish colonial actor both complicates and reinforces this colonial-national dichotomy.

Ultimately, what the Fez Congress represented was a crisis of nation, empire, and modernity, held at the intersections of nationalist and imperialist visions for Morocco. In my paper I ask: what potentially new or hybrid visions for Morocco were produced in the work of these participants? And why was music a meaningful site for their expression? Set against the backdrop of interwar French North Africa, burgeoning nation-state and Arab nationalisms, and the development of metropolitan ethnomusicology, I treat music as a uniquely powerful concept, both sociohistorical text and agent of transformation, which particularly during the Protectorate became an important discursive site for “the Moroccan soul.”